Thank you, Crytek. In a market saturated with gritty, brown, one-dimensional shooters, Crysis 2 is a refreshing alternative. Not only does it accommodate a range of play styles guaranteed to please thoughtful tacticians, skulking sneakers, and bashing brutes alike, but it also presents the action amid the ruins of a beautifully realized New York City. From the subway tunnels to the tallest high-rises, Crysis 2 is a fantastic, fun playground where the slide is the Empire State Building and the other kids are aliens who want to eat your face.

In much the same way that Rome is a big part of what made the recent Assassin’s Creed games so great, New York City is one of the main attractions in Crysis 2. If you’re like me, you’re weary of the overdone locations. I’ve cleared enough radar installations and open-air markets to last a lifetime, so I was grateful when Crysis 2 relocated the action to Roosevelt Island or the steps of the New York Public Library. There are plenty of iconic locations scattered here and there in the game and even if you don’t recognize the specific landmarks, there’s no mistaking that this is New York. Better still, it’s all rendered with tremendous attention to detail using some of the most impressive graphics technology the industry has to offer.

But apart from the quality of the images, what really makes it work is that you’ve got a setting that’s completely familiar to people, even if all they know of New York is what they’ve seen in movies. At the same time, the alien invasion has destroyed enough of the city to make it unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Whether you’re looking at the Manhattan skyline in flames, or wading past the severed head of the State of Liberty, the whole game is a great mix of shock and comfort. The game also offers a nice mix of indoor and outdoor action. You’ll go from shootouts in the cramped subways and offices to shootouts on the open streets and rooftops of the city. The pacing and placement of these sequences is great and you never feel like any one type of level is wearing out its welcome.

As good as the setting is, it’s not perfect. First, the transitions between levels are abrupt. Most of the time the designers rely on the cheap trick of having the player knocked out between levels. Great, now not only do I have a concussion, but now I have to watch a confusing cutscene before I find out what I’ll be shooting next. And here’s a pro-tip: Any time you feel like you’re getting ready for a cool vehicle sequence, that probably means the level is going to end in five seconds. The second complaint is that the levels themselves are far less open than those in the original Crysis, at least in terms of the entrances and exits. You can still get some good flanking action, but you don’t have as many options for how you come up on each encounter.

Really, that’s a minor consideration, because the range of powers afforded by your nano-suit does give you tremendous flexibility in how you approach each encounter. The suit comes with three main powers, each of which drains a recharging energy meter. First, you can opt for super strength, useful for running, jumping, and smashing your way through the levels. This is active all the time and can be combined with one of the other powers. The second power is stealth mode, which makes you nearly invisible to your enemies. The tradeoff is that you have to move slowly to maximize the amount of time you can get out of a single charge; the quicker you move, the quicker you’ll run out of stealth power. The third power uses the suit’s energy to provide protection from damage. Each of the suit’s powers can be upgraded for more efficient use throughout the game, so if you find yourself favoring a certain style of play, you can improve the suit’s abilities in that area.

Specializing in one type of play, however, seems to be missing the point. Crysis 2 is at its most fun when you’re switching back and forth between roles, sneaking in and taking out sentries, engaging the armor mode for firefights, and then using the running and jumping powers to get to safety. Each encounter can be approached in different ways and the game does a great job familiarizing players with the different approaches. As the game starts, you’ll find yourself fighting against regular human soldiers who aren’t terribly tough. You’ll get to learn to how to fight against these easy folks before moving on to more challenging enemies. The game also includes a tactical vision mode that highlights on the screen key locations where certain types of play might be appropriate. It might, for instance, call out a sniping position on a roof, or a subway entrance you can use to sneak around behind your enemies.

When you throw in multiplayer, where up to 12 players can compete using all these abilities (at least in some modes), things get even more ridiculous. The modes are fairly straightforward, and the addition of an experience system and unlocks adds a bit more variety. What really sells the experience though is the stealth system. Being able to hide in plain sight adds so much tension to the game. The ability may honestly be a bit overpowered, but with all players in the same boat, no one’s in a position to claim an unfair advantage.

If Crysis 2 falls short in any one key area, it’s story. Or maybe it’s better to say that the story falls short because of the way it’s told. The plot itself might be actually enjoyable. The problem is that all the elements are jumbled together and parceled out seemingly at random. You don’t even know who your character is supposed to be until a few hours into the game. Even then your character is defined entirely by what he does, which makes all the accompanying melodrama (not to mention the I-so-saw-that-coming twist towards the end), kind of unsatisfying. The campaign itself clocks in around 10 hours, which is long enough to be satisfying, but not so long that you’re not likely to go back and play it a different way.

There are a few other minor problems here and there. AI is sometimes very brilliant in its ability to outflank you and sometimes stupid to the point of literally walking into walls. The more closed and urban nature of the levels, at least compared to the original Crysis, also means that there are plenty of awkward barriers placed here and there. The nano-suit is powerful enough for me to kick cars off of bridges but not powerful enough to kick down wooden doors that don’t lead to your next objective? Maybe it sounds nitpicky, but it’s a bit of a mood killer.

Bottom Line: Combining an outstanding setting, tremendous visuals, and an open-ended play style, Crysis 2 is the whole package. Small problems with the story and some minor design annoyances don’t get in the way of an otherwise amazing experience.

Recommendation: If you like shooters and are as tired of Call of Duty clones as I am, this is the game for you.

[rating=4]

This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Game: Crysis 2
Genre: Shooter
Developer: Crytek
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox360
Available from: Amazon(US), GameStop(US), Amazon(UK), Play.com(UK)

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